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Aboriginal LGBTI people celebrate ‘Love Won’ with art

Aboriginal LGBTI people celebrate ‘Love Won’ with art

Artwork by Boomalli Co-operative artist, Jenny Fraser

Sydney Mardi Gras is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s not the only birthday being celebrated. The groundbreaking Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative showcases art from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTI artists.

Formed in 1988, it is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

To commemorate both events, Boomalli is launching its annual Mardi Gras exhibition this Friday (23 February). The show is entitled Luscious All Sorts: Love Won. Opening the event this Friday will be former rugby league player and LGBTI advocate, Casey Conway.

Casey Conway will open the Boomalli exhibition
Casey Conway is a prominent advocate of LGBTI and aboriginal rights (Photo: @caseyconway_ | Twitter)

The show has been curated by Kyra Kum-Sing. She says Boomalli was originally formed by Aboriginal artists frustrated at the lack of recognition in the mainstream art world.

‘The Co-operative’s existence and continued longevity has been an enabler for hundreds of Aboriginal artists.

She says the ‘ripple effect’ of the co-operative’s work has been ‘profound’. Many of its associated artists have enjoyed enduring and successful careers. ’

Love won

Asked how she felt about marriage equality coming to Australia, Kyra says it was ‘long overdue.

‘As an Aboriginal person I believe this is one step into the right direction as I can get married if I choose.’

Kyra Kum-Sing
Kyra Kum-Sing has curated the new Boomalli show (Photo: Facebook)

However, she points out there are plenty of other issues to tackle.

‘We strive in continuing our cultural practices in the form of the arts. This is big part of our traditional story lines and has been for many generations before me. It’s important for us as Aboriginal peoples and NSW Aboriginal Language groups to maintain our connection of our dreaming stories and family bloodline.

‘This is continuing on our lines for the next generations for our existence.

‘There are many social and emotional issues that face Aboriginal peoples, with high rates of incarceration, health, land rights/native titles and many more issues that still need to be addressed. I believe the arts helps our people by giving them a voice to tell their stories.’

Her viewpoint is backed up by Dameyon Bonson, the founder of Black Rainbow, an inspiring LGBTI Aboriginal advocacy group.

‘I’m definitely 100% super happy that Australia has marriage equality,’ he says. ‘But we still have a lot more work to be done in terms of human rights for the indigenous LGBTI community, and also around health equality.’

Bonson, who is based in Darwin, won’t be able to attend Mardi Gras this year (‘it would have been great to see Cher,’ he laughs), but says it is one of the LGBTI spaces where he feels more welcome. He has experienced both racism on the gay scene and homophobia in aboriginal spaces.

He says aboriginal advocates are more often being included in discussions, but it’s sometimes a tokenistic gesture, not in ‘any kind of substantive way.’ Rather than just a seat at the table, LGBTI aboriginal people still need their own piece of the table.

'Weaving', by Peta-Joy Williams in collaboration with Kirketon Road Centre
‘Weaving’ by Peta-Joy Williams in collaboration with Kirketon Road Centre (Photo: Boomalli)

‘Our true north star’

One artist included in the show is Jenny Fraser. Asked about  marriage equality, she indicates to GSN that although welcoming the result, it was unfortunate it went to a public vote.

‘It seemed as though the government was using a minority group issue as a political football, and paying one hundred and twenty million dollars for their blood sport… However, it was a relief that so many mainstream Australians showed public support and this was a win.’

Explaining her contribution to the show, she says, ‘The title of my installation for the Boomalli exhibition is “When your government is a Dog Act since Seventeen Hatey Hate”, which is tongue in cheek because it juxtaposes with a portrait of myself hugging a koala and showing the love for community, yet also calling out our so-called leaders of society at the same time.

‘I really hope that people in the community can stay strong, having survived for so long already, and move on in the direction of our true north star.’

Luscious All Sorts: Love Won runs at 55-59 Flood St, Leichhardt, Sydney, Australia, from 23 February-1 April as part of the 40th Sydney Mardi Gras program.

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